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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Some more thoughts on Intelligent Design

I have noticed a resurgence of posts around the blogosphere on intelligent design again. Most are accompanied with assertions that anyone who is taught intelligent design will be less versed, and less knowledgeable in science, and that therefore if the U.S. were to allow such heresy to be taught our hopes of scientific advancement would be quashed for all time. I exaggerate, but only slightly. This seems to me to be pretty foolish. First off, as best as I recall, we spent maybe a month or two total out of all my high school education (at a pretty good school) covering evolution. The rest of High School biology was mostly learning classifications and cutting up dead animals. If someone who wanted a career in biological science failed to get a good grounding from their high school education, they could probably fill in the gaps with an afternoon of reading. However, even then I don't think that studying Intelligent Design would have that effect in any event. From what I understand of ID theory, and I don't claim to be an expert so correct me if I am wrong, evolution is necessary but not sufficient to explain the complexity of life on earth. Basically, ID theory boils down to the concept that their are gaps between what can be explained by random mutation and natural selection and that those gaps are best explained by the actions of an intelligent force. ID doesn't deny that evolution happens, rather evolution itself is integral to ID theory and to understand ID, you have to fairly completely understand evolution. This is part of the reason I am not an expert on the subject. Typically, when ID is criticized by pundits, what they are actually criticizing is Creationism, which pretty much denies that evolution occurs at all (this post by Ezra Klein is a good example of that.) Now, I do have some problems with ID. I am pretty unconvinced that an Intelligent Designer is more likely than a as yet undiscovered natural process to explain any of their specific evolutionary questions. It also appears to me, as a layman, that some of their critiques of evolutionary biology are mistaken and are satisfactorily explained by current science. Lastly, for those who find the theoretical Intelligent Designer to be evidence for God, I find that to be very poor theology. Any omnipotent being who mostly used natural processes (as the Designer postulated by intelligent design obviously does) must have a reason for doing so, and for keeping direct evidence of their existence hidden. The idea that such a being was able to mostly do this, but not completely strikes me as pretty weak, and would be a pretty pathetic God. If Christian fundamentalists were brighter, they would shun ID as a far more pernicious heresy than anything Darwin ever said. However, that is beside the point as to whether we should teach ID or not. While I disagree that a designer is necessarily the most likely explanation for things we do not understand, it is not, in and of itself, an unscientific explanation. There are many areas of science where we look speculate on likelihoods and probabilities. SETI is, in my opinion, science, and the concept of extra-terrestrial intelligent life and how we look for them is something that has a place in science classes. The existence of intelligent life, like that of the intelligent designer, is not falsifiable. Understanding the holes in current evolutionary theory, understanding that all is not yet explained and that more research needs to be done, is the key to understanding science. Science is a process of continually refining our understanding. It seems to me that ID teaches that quite well, and that any High School student who had a solid grounding in Intelligent Design theory would be better, not less, prepared for a career in Science, and particularly Biological Sciences, than one who did not.


Anonymous GaijinBiker said...

The problem is not the concept itself that life on earth was shaped by an intelligent designer. The problem is that once you've stated the ID hypothesis, there is very little science you can do with it.

You can't do experiments to determine the nature of this supposed designer or how he/she/it operates. You can't refine or falsify aspects of the theory. All you can do is accept it.

How did the human eye gain its complex structure? Intelligent design. How did bacteria develop spinning flagella? Intelligent design. How did cellular structures came into being? Intelligent Design.

Evolutionary biologists can't fully answer these questions in step-by-step detail, but at least they acknowledge that they are questions. ID proponents see them as answers.

It's for this reason that ID doesn't belong in science classes, even if it were true. The phenomenon it describes is simply not capable of being analyzed or explored by scientific methods.

If some people prefer to believe that an intelligent designer is at work behind the scenes, that's their right. But there is nothing scientific about such a belief.

8/30/2005 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger Katinula said...

That is exactly right. ID doesn't explain the holes in evolutionary theory, it plugs the holes with an unscientific theory and could, quite possibly, make students think that exploring those holes and what they mean is a futile exercise. Exploring holes in scientific theory is what leads to more scientific discovery. You can plug any unexplainable hole with a theory that a higher being must have been responsible, however, you wouldn't get very much advancement of knowledge in the world. ID, if it belongs anywhere, belongs in philosophy, critical thinking or religion class.

8/30/2005 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

IF there was some sort of intelligent intervention that has caused biological diversity, I don't know that that would be the end of science necessarily (no if the intelligent intervention was a supreme all powerful being it might.)

What should we do if, after looking at everything, consensus does emerge that some sort of intervention would be required to explain life? Would we stop scientific inquiry into those areas? I don't think so, I think that if the majority of scientists were to decide that (and they haven't but many theories have been unpopular) I think that scienctific exploration into how such intervention happened would increase.

It certainly wouldn't be scientific to deny evidence just because the answer the evidence gave would make further investigation very hard.

The point of this post though, was that a student who had a good grounding in ID would also, of necessity, have a good grounding in evolution. The most you could say against teaching ID then would be that it is a waste of time. Perhaps it is.

We teach a lot though that can be considered a waste of time. Some think anti-drug education is a waste of time. Others think that there is no reason to read Shakespear.

I am pretty content to let democratic majorities in a community decide what is, and what isn't a waste of time for their kids to learn.

8/31/2005 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger The probligo said...

Personally, and this is the one reason why I have never - probably never will - posted on ID or creationism, the whole idea of the "supreme creator" is one that I just can not swallow.

In other words, the whole argument boils down to simple belief.

"I believe in God and creationism" versus "I believe in the objectivity of science".

8/31/2005 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger RFTR said...

But exploring those holes, in every case in scientific exploratory history, has resulted in more holes.

I think ID leaves room for one to say "at the root, somewhere, is an intelligent creator," as those holes continue to appear, and you delve into them looking for more and more information.

Just because you think God did it doesn't mean you stop trying to figure out HOW He did it. You'll never get there, but you'll get closer and closer for all eternity.

9/01/2005 11:07:00 AM  

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